Women entrepreneurs are on a steady rise. In the paper titled The Changing Experience of Australian Female Entrepreneurs, “The study of female entrepreneurship is a dynamic field with more women than men engaging in self-employment in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.”
The increasing numbers of women entrepreneurs is great news and yet, conditions could be a lot better. Challenges that women face in the business world still exist; gender disparity in financing and funding, stereotypes that affect the growth of women entrepreneurs in male dominated industries, lack of practical support to maintain work-life flow, and the want of mentorship and guidance, are some of the bigger problems at hand.
There is a need then to create an environment that fosters women entrepreneurs and surmount the above challenges. The following ways are what can be done toward building a favourable environment for women entrepreneurs:
1) Putting in place policies and efforts that address existing challenges
The above challenges are just some obstacles women face when following the path of entrepreneurship. Upon identifying these issues, policies can be implemented by the government or even within organisations to help mitigate these challenges.
The African Development Bank and International Labour Organisation sets an excellent example in this regard. As early as 2003, they sought “to identify the most appropriate means of contributing to an improved enabling environment for women to start and grow enterprises.” Their vision led to the Integrated Framework for Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs (GOWE), which looked into various aspects that would improve the opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
An offshoot of this initiative is the Support for Growth-oriented Women Entrepreneurs in Tanzania, a program that focused on boosting employment through initiatives like the Small Enterprise Development. A SME Development Policy was subsequently proposed to include gender mainstreaming and measures to promote women entrepreneurship, among them the designing of special program and the addressing of factors inhibiting women and the disadvantaged.
Having policies that ensure women entrepreneurs get the equal opportunity they seek will certainly go a long way in creating an environment for women entrepreneurs to excel.
2) Encourage women towards tech based entrepreneurship
Within the tech sector, gender disparity still exists. Though it’s promising that the participation rates of women in the field of engineering have improved, a critical mass of 30-40% is still required to balance the gender disparity. To encourage more women to joining the tech sector, education establishments such as universities can consider offering scholarship programs toward women applicants, like in the Lead to Win program from Carleton University.
Courses like the Innovation Strategies for a Changing World designed specially for women by Harvard University is also an admirable example of providing avenues for education and growth of women in Science. Such opportunities for women to foster education on technical courses will encourage greater learning toward tech roles, ultimately contributing to the tech sector of the future.
3) Better financing options
Despite solid facts that prove women-led tech companies bring in revenue nearly 12% higher than male-led companies, women still get less than five percent of Venture Capital funding. This goes to show that obtaining finance still poses a big challenge for women.
The result of such unconscious bias on women has affected the way they seek funding and ultimately their ability to grow their businesses. A majority of women are now choosing to start ventures using funds from their personal savings or loans from family and friends according to the paper on the Changing Experience of Australian Female Entrepreneurs. Without the confidence to seek bigger funding options, women will only be limited to starting up small-scale businesses.
Better financial options for women, an unbiased approach to risk assessment by investors and bankers, and an increase in women-led VCs can together bring about better financial environment for women entrepreneurs to both start and grow their ventures.
4) Fostering women networks
Mentors are a vital aspect for all businesses. These are people who can guide the business, provide sound advice from an ‘outside’ perspective and also the connections that will subsequently help in business growth. In the case of women entrepreneurs according to the Creating an Environment That Encourages Women Entrepreneurs, it’s a pity to learn that they “lack access to advice, counselling and encouragement. This is largely attributed to a lack of donor-supported services. Women, in most cases, do not have the funds to pay for these services, and those that can afford user-pay programming do not prioritise funds to pay for these services.”
To improve on the current situation for women entrepreneurs, the benefits of mentoring must be educated and emphasised so women will understand the importance of having a mentor. The demand for women mentors must also be met with the supply, so other women who have experience should also speak up to share their experiences as mentors.
It may be a less-than-perfect world for women entrepreneurs; but it is looking up as governments, international bodies, and financial institutions are working towards creating a better environment for them. At behind closed doors, we are doing our part in fostering a better environment for women businesses by providing mentorship guidance and support to women entrepreneurs globally. Our network not only encourages and supports fellow business women but also helps in opening doors to new opportunities and markets. If you are a woman and are seeking a mentor or would like to be a mentor, we would love to hear from you.
Let us know your experience including what has worked for you as an entrepreneur.
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